By Chinta Strausberg
His graduating class is the last one, but 18-year-old Cameron Barnes will be the first graduate to walk across the stage to get his diploma.
Barnes is the valedictorian of this year’s graduating class at the Chicago International Charter – Larry Hawkins High School in Altgeld Gardens housing projects. In addition to graduating with top honors, Barnes holds the distinction of being the valedictorian of the last graduating class at Larry Hawkins.
Next month, the school will close its doors after years of academic struggles. Last November, Chicago Public Schools voted to close Larry Hawkins along with three other charter schools. The move came just weeks after CPS placed the schools on academic probation.
While Betty Shabazz, Amandla Charter School and Bronzeville Lighthouse Elementary School won appeals to stay open from the Illinois Charter Commission, Larry Hawkins’ charter, the Chicago International Charter School decided not to appeal the closure. The school has spent most of the year helping its students find alternative schools in the area for the 2016-2017 school year.
Barnes knows where he is going. Confident and ambitious, he is going to college and has already charted his ladder of academic success.
Barnes, who has a GPA of 3.52, was born on the far South Side of Chicago to a family of three. An inquisitive child, he got involved with the civil rights movement by hanging out with his aunt at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Headquarters, 930 E. 50th St.
His aunt worked on the PUSH HBCU bus tour that took 68 high school students to several Historically Black Colleges and Universities. “At first, I didn’t want to go to the HBCU meetings, and I didn’t want to go on the tour without my brother,” confessed Barnes. Barnes got the academic bug fast.
He credited his change of heart from the healthy environment at PUSH. “It’s historically rich around here; so I kept coming back every Saturday.”
And then he met Rev. Janette Wilson, executive director of PUSH Excel. Whatever doubts or hesitations he had quickly disappeared. “Rev. Wilson saw me as a leader and wanted me to help in the youth division.”
Today, Barnes is the secretary of PUSH Youth Exceling in Service (YES) program and president of the PUSH youth choir.
Barnes has found his niche after school hours, but he is also looking forward to his June graduation from high school. He plans to attend the college of his choice, Central State University.
There, Barnes plans on majoring in business marketing before he pursues a degree in mortuary science. “I have always wanted to be a funeral director,” he said. “I enjoy the business.
“I like comforting the bereaved families and I look forward to providing them the best service possible.”